Paul’s Visits and Letters to the Church in Corinth (Draft)

Dr. Andrew Jackson

Paul’s relationship to the church in Corinth can be confusing if you do not understand the big picture. Paul made three missionary visits to Corinth and wrote them four letters. Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia and was one of the greatest cities of the Roman empire.

(1) Paul started the church in Corinth on his first missionary visit about AD 51-52 during his second missionary journey and stayed 18 months (Acts 18:1-7).

(2) Paul’s first letter was written to Corinth from Ephesus and is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9. But it is not in the New Testament.

(3) In response to his first letter, the church in Corinth sent a letter to Paul in Ephesus requesting his guidance on numerous issues (1 Corinthians 7:1). In response to the report he received from Chloe’s people (1 Corinthians 1:11) and the Corinthian letter,

(4) Paul’s second letter was 1 Corinthians that he wrote from Ephesus about A.D. 55. near the end of his three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:21–22).

(5) After writing 1 Corinthians, Paul made a brief second visit to Corinth from Ephesus on his way to Macedonia. This visit is not mentioned in Acts and is known as Paul’s “painful or sorrowful” visit because of the division that emerged between Paul and the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2:1). This visit is predicted in 1 Corinthians 16:5-8 and referred back to in 2 Corinthians 13:1-2.

At the time he wrote 1 Corinthians, Paul intended to return to Corinth after his stay in Ephesus and after passing through Macedonia, to proceed from Corinth to Jerusalem with the collection (cf. 1 Cor. 16:5–9).

(6) In the meantime, he sent Timothy to visit the Corinthians on his behalf (16:10–11; cf. Acts 19:22). Upon his arrival, Timothy found that the problems in Corinth had escalated, most probably a result of the recent appearance of Paul’s opponents from outside the city.

(7) In response, Paul decided to visit Corinth immediately himself in order to shore up the church, after which he would go on to Macedonia and then return for a second visit en route to Jerusalem (the double “benefit” of 2 Cor. 1:15–16). At this point, Paul assumed that once in Corinth, his holy and sincere conduct toward the Corinthians would be vindicated (1:15a). Nothing could have been further from the truth. When he arrived for what soon became a very “painful visit” (2:1), the church called into question Paul’s authority and gospel, while one of its leaders severely attacked Paul himself (cf. 2:1, 5–8; 7:8–13; 11:4). Indeed, the false teaching of Paul’s opponents had led a great number, if not most, of the Corinthians to accept another view of Jesus, a contrary spirit, and hence a different gospel altogether (cf. 11:4)!

(8) So, faced with this confrontation to his ministry, Paul left Corinth and returned to Ephesus in the midst of a large-scale rebellion against his apostolic authority (1:23–2:5; 7:12), determined not to make another “painful visit” (2:1–2).

(9) Once in Ephesus, and still distraught over the plight of his spiritual children, Paul sent Titus back to Corinth with a tearful and severe letter in which he warned the Corinthians of God’s judgment and called them to repent (2:3–4; 7:8–16). After Paul’s second visit to Corinth, he wrote his third letter, which is known as the “corrective, severe, or tearful” letter. Probably written during Paul’s second visit to Macedonia, after his second trip to Corinth and before he returns to Ephesus. This corrective letter resulted in the sorrow of the Corinthian church mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:8. Like his first letter to Corinth, this letter is not in the Bible (2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 7:8). Chronologically, it is the third letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. 2 Corinthians 2:4. Paul experienced something during his second visit to Corinth while on his way to Macedonia that concerned him and caused him to write this letter.  Paul originally intended to return to Corinth on his way back to Ephesus. But Paul decided it was not a good time for him to visit Corinth and he returned to Ephesus by the land route. (2 Corinthians 1:15-16) (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:1)

(10) After Titus left for Corinth, Paul himself went on to Troas to pursue his own ministry and to wait for Titus to return with news about the church. But when Titus delayed in returning, Paul feared both for Titus’s safety and for the condition of the Corinthians. Filled with anxiety, Paul left the open door he had in Troas and went on to Macedonia to find Titus (2 Cor. 2:12–13).

(11) Paul’s fourth letter was 2 Corinthians just before his third visit (Acts 20:2-3) 2 Corinthians This is the letter we know as 2 Corinthians and is the fourth letter from Paul to the Corinthian church.Paul wrote this letter during his third visit to Macedonia (probably from Philippi, approximately 56 AD), after Titus had arrived with encouraging news about the situation in Corinth. Instead of returning to Corinth, Paul sent Titus to Corinth. When Titus rejoined Paul in Macedonia, Paul rejoiced at the news Titus brought from Corinth. (2 Corinthians 7:5-7, 13) Paul wrote this letter to prepare for his coming to see them again (3rd visit), as he gathers a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. (2 Cor 9:1-5)

(12) Paul’s third visit to Corinth….